Lottery numbers were the logical place to start. They were completely random, with astronomical odds, the Powerball folks still used a purely mechanical device to generate them so he couldn’t be accused of tampering with them electronically and the drawing was streamed live at a specific time and place. All Sam had to do was sit down at his work table five minutes before things kicked off, cue up the stream on his tablet and flick on the power to the relay.
In theory, anyway. But more than two hours before the drawing was supposed to take place Sam was up to his elbows in the relay’s power source, running another diagnostic in what his brain told him was part of an obsessive need to control but his gut told him was definitely, 100% absolutely necessary for the test.
He’d always had problems with indigestion.
Pure math was not his thing but after leaving grad school at MIT under a cloud he’d been determined to prove… well, something. Contrary to popular belief high concept, theoretical scientists were ruled by emotion just as much as other people. Some of them even knew how to deal with those emotions. Sam King prided himself on channeling them into his work. And so, anxiety drove him to rebuild the tachyon relay a fifth time and like it.
Twenty minutes before the drawing he was done.
With nothing better to do he switched the relay on and pulled up the Powerball app on his phone. It was hard to believe that people of the modern era, with all the education and what not it prided itself on, people were still drawn to such wasteful forms of gambling but, just this once, Same was grateful that the lottery had kept up with the times. It made this experiment really easy to run. All he had to do was push the appropriate lottery button and see what the winning numbers were, then activate the – highly modified – phone in the relay and pull up the same screen.
The numbers listed didn’t match.
Sam frantically checked the relay’s phone and confirmed it was working. There were still fifteen minutes until the drawing. “Not possible,” Sam muttered, checking the relay again. “It shouldn’t have that much range.”
After ten minutes of frantic shuffling of notes and double checking calculations he came back to the conclusion that everything was working properly. The two phones still displayed different sets of winning numbers. Sam pulled up the browser on his laptop and flipped over to the bookmarked page that would let him livestream the drawing. Four minutes to go.
The hosts were chattering about something or another but Sam tuned them out and ran over everything one more time. Then double checked his wifi router, to make sure the stream wouldn’t cut out. Two and a half minutes. There was nothing to do but drain his mug of tea, sit down in a chair, hug his knees to his chest and wait. By some heroic exertion of will he managed to keep himself from rocking back and forth while humming. He hadn’t gone that far down the nutty professor route.
Though, to be fair, he’d never been a professor.
Envy and discontent welled up in him, as it did countless times every day. As he did whenever that happened he forced it down by mindlessly running through simple differential equations and almost missed the drawing. It was only the fact that the hosts had stopped talking that yanked him out of his reverie. The small plastic ball with the first number on it was already bouncing down to the deposit. Sam leaned forward and held his breath.
Five minutes later the drawing was done. The numbers matched the display on his relay. Sam King had successfully predicted the future.
Natalie jerked around, the sound of rushing waters in her ears. Pivoting frantically, she tried to place herself. Most of the world was dark, lit only by small patches of light that seemed to drift in the distance, far out of reach. Nothing nearby was illuminated but she had a sensation of floating.
The last bit gave it away, it was familiar enough. She was dreaming.
Dreaming was nothing new for her, she’d had horrible nightmares for years, to the point of insomnia, until therapy helped her learn to assert herself and dream in a lucid state. She inhaled deeply and phantom water streamed into her nose and mouth, settling in her lungs and stomach. But it wasn’t real, she told herself, and exhaled it back out steadily. She wanted to see.
Darkness took flight all around her, leaving her standing on a rough surface that was probably some kind of coral or clinging sea thing. It looked like she was in some kind of shallow depression in the side of a sheer cliff while over her head the seafloor rose up in some kind of ridges. Straight ahead there was nothing but open water as far as her subconscious had created the world. With a shrug she decided to go exploring and pushed herself off into the water, drifting away from the cliffside. She’d gotten far enough to catch a glimpse of some kind of stone wall rising up from the top of the cliff when a voice rose up through the water, loud enough that she felt it with her entire body.
“Natalie. The world bends. So few are left who hear our voice.”
She stopped her drift through the murky water and looked around frantically. Dreams of drowning in the ocean were nothing new for her – even though she’d never seen a body of water larger than a retention pond – but dreams with dialog were another story. “Who-?”
“You must find the cause.”
“Yeah, how am I-”
“You shall feel our power in your bones. Think with the minds of the ancients. Hear with our wisdom. See with our eyes. You shall be everything you have ever desired to be. Wield the power to set things right.”
The depression she’d just left spasmed, then split open to reveal an angry yellow eye with a black vertical pupil as tall as her three story apartment building. Natalie’s mouth opened but she couldn’t scream – the weight of the water was suddenly too much and crushed all the strength from her.
“Go, Natalie. More depends on you than you know.”
She jolted awake, fighting against phantoms, and found herself panting and tangled in cords and sheets. As calm returned she realized she was in a hospital bed, attached to monitors. The door burst open and a nurse hustled in, already shushing her and trying to straighten out the mess she’d made of things. “W-why am I…”
Natalie trailed off, trying to remember why she might be in a hospital. The nurse guessed the question anyway. “You’ve been asleep for the past two days. Your parents brought you to the ER when you wouldn’t wake up.”
That hadn’t happened before. “Two days?”
The nurse nodded. “That’s right, honey.”
Her mind worked to process that, then blurted out the first thing that came to mind. “I missed my math test.”
As tempting as it was to just win the lottery a couple of times and retire, Sam knew that would immediately get him in trouble and the ability to predict the future was too good to waste on something like that. He wasn’t quite sure what practical implications it had just yet but, before thinking too much about that, he needed to prove it worked in as many different ways as he could.
The concept was simple. He’d built a relay that used tachyon particles to talk to itself in the past. The cost in power was pretty high, he was going to have a killer electrical bill that month, and at first it had only been able to talk to itself half an hour in the past. Not super useful.
But after a week of tinkering he’d managed to run the relay for about an hour and pull up news reports from two days in the future on it. Then the relay had blown a capacitor and was going to need serious retooling. Sam figured it was time to give it an overhaul, think about how to improve it for presentation to the scientific community. But first things came first. He’d read several news stories from yesterday twice. Once on the relay, once when they happened. So far everything had been pretty accurate. Which made today kind of tricky.
He had to go to work to pay his bills and the costs of another build of the relay. Problem was the worksite was supposed to blow up that morning. He climbed out of the car and looked over the bustling site. A huge scaffolding and gantry system supported a 3d concrete printer, laying out the shell of a planned commercial suite intended to hold six offices for dentists, optometrists and the like. Most of the place was printed already and contractors were bustling through the dried sections, running utilities and whatever else happened in there once the printing was done. The big concrete printer was still whirring away on the third floor.
The report said the explosion came in the area of the concrete printer, which was crazy. As one of the four techs who programmed, set up and supervised the printer when it was in motion Sam knew it wasn’t the kind of thing that could explode and take out half a building. Still, he didn’t have any reason to doubt the report he’d read, either. Other than the fact that it came from the future.
Sometimes new technology was more trouble than it was worth. Sam set out to find his supervisor.
As it turned out Clark was at his truck, drinking coffee and listening to the architect drone on about something or other and nodding at the right times. Clark had made foreman for his diplomatic approach to contractor/employer relationships. He usually didn’t talk when they told him what they wanted, then ignored how they wanted him to do it and made sure the job got done right. He was a better boss than some Sam had worked for in academia. Certainly more patient. Clark put up with almost ten minutes of lecture before the architect moved on. Clark let him get a good ten feet away before snorting, shaking his head and walking over to Sam.
“Morning, King.” The foreman was not a man fond of given names. “Anything I can help you with?”
Frivolity wasn’t something Clark like in any form and Sam had a feeling that mentioning news from the future wasn’t going to get him anywhere in this situation so he decided on a more practical tactic. “Do you have the last safety and maintenance inspection report on the printer? It was acting a little funny yesterday and I was hoping to see if I could find the cause.”
Or at least a reason to shut it off and keep it from killing four people when it exploded.
“Sure.” Clark went to his truck and pulled open the back door on the cab, rummaging for his box where he kept those kinds of papers. Sam rolled onto the balls of his feet, impatient. The news had said the explosion was early in the morning, although it hadn’t given an exact time. And he’d run every safety check he could think of on the thing yesterday, no telling how that might have altered the variables since he last checked the future’s news. But he still didn’t want to waste time.
He was so preoccupied with the question of what might go wrong with the printer that he didn’t notice the girl until she was standing right next to him.
“You shouldn’t have looked.”
Sam jerked out of his musings at her voice. She was short, maybe five foot, and young. At a guess, he’s have said thirteen, although she might have been fourteen. Wavy brown hair framed a solemn face and hard brown eyes. Sam frowned. “Honey, you shouldn’t be here. This place is dangerous. What-”
“You’ve seen something you shouldn’t have.” The girl pulled a weird piece of white plastic off of her belt. It looked a bit like a pinwheel. “You shouldn’t have looked.”
Sam felt the hair on the back of his neck standing on end. Something was off about this. “What are you doing here, young lady?”
“The world is bent,” she said. “I have to make it right.”
It took a moment for him to realize it wasn’t just the hair on the back of his neck standing up. All of it was. Then a bolt of light struck the girl and he was knocked back with a deafening crack.